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New Pew Survey Reveals Most Americans Don’t Know Their Library Has eBooks

15943027233_ec39a433ef_hThe Pew Research Center released a new report on the state of the American library user. The report is based on a survey conducted in March and April of this year, and while it is far too long to be summarized in a blog post few details jumped out at me.

For one thing, there’s growing support for the type of book-less library made prominent by Bexar County in Texas and adopted in growing numbers by college libraries.

Pew asked its survey group whether they thought that libraries should  move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for such things as tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms and cultural events.

Some 30% of respondents thought it was a great idea (up from 20% in 2012), while 40% thought that libraries should “maybe” do that, and 25% were opposed to the idea (down from 36% in 2012).

This is a sign of the growing appreciation that books aren’t quite so important as they used to be. They’re a means to an end (disseminating knowledge), and thanks to new tech books are now just one of many ways for libraries to inform their patrons.

Libraries also, for example, have ebooks. The American Library Association says that 90% of public libraries in the US, but sadly most patrons aren’t aware of that fact:

Pew’s survey found that:

People are increasingly aware that they can borrow e-books at their public library. Some 38% say their public library has e-books, compared with 31% who said this in 2012. Those more likely to be aware that their library has e-books are college graduates (52% say they are aware of e-book lending), parents (44%) and those in homes where the annual income is over $75,000 (44%).

Only 16% of the 38% have checked out a library ebook, which means that only 6% of library patrons are making use of a service that many libraries offer.

Even accounting for those who don’t have the tech required to check out ebooks, that is a disappointingly low number.

And that goes double when you consider that 66% of those who visited a library in the past 12 months said that they checked out a paper book. Sure, the paper book collection is larger at most libraries, but you would think that all the attention generated by the Kindle would have resulted in higher library ebook use.

You can find the complete report on the Pew website.

image by state_libraryofohio

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Timothy Wilhoit September 16, 2015 um 8:28 pm

"46% of all Americans ages 16 and over say they visited a library or a bookmobile in-person in the prior year. This is roughly comparable with the 48% who said this in 2013, but down from 53% in 2012."

I suspect that a large chunk of the 54% that had not been to the library in the last year aren’t aware that the library has e-books to lend. Only 22% have used library websites in the last year. Sad statistics.

Steve September 16, 2015 um 10:14 pm

With the recent skyrocket of ebook prices I am starting to jump all over library ebooks. I used to just buy the books but now with many titles at 14.99 I am becoming calculating. The larger publishers have no idea how they are changing buying behavior(I used to turn my nose up at 3.99 and under kindle books…no longer as I found some are actually fairly good). Once bargain hunting and library use becomes a habit it will be hard to pay these new premium prices.

Purple lady September 16, 2015 um 11:28 pm

If so few people even know that libraries have ebooks, why are the wait lists so long?

carmen webster buxton September 16, 2015 um 11:32 pm

Since so many library systems don’t have enough money to buy ebooks — especially not at the inflated prices publishers want to charge them — maybe it’s just as well library patrons don’t know to ask for them?

Robert Nagle September 17, 2015 um 1:57 am

as passionate as I am about ebooks, I don’t think I’ve checked out more than a handful from the Overdrive library of Houston public library. Skimpy offerings (mainly book series from Harlequin, NYT bestsellers and the usual suspects). Overdrive is somewhat hard to use. The notification system is not terribly efficient. And a lot of books (even recent ones) simply are never digitalized. and you can’t renew things in my library system.

Here’s what I’m getting at: libraries seem better able to acquire indie print titles than indie ebook titles.

R Coots September 17, 2015 um 8:56 am

My library has ebooks. I just don’t check any of them out. A) Most of them are Children’s books (what the…? B) The ones that AREN’T children’s are lit fic/chick lit. Since I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy, with a smattering of non-fiction sciencey stuff, I’m SOL when it comes to my library’s Ebook selection.

Becki September 17, 2015 um 11:30 am

For those who know about their library’s ebook collections but don’t check anything out: have you made any suggestions that they look for other genres? Made suggestions of specific authors or titles you are interested in?

My library doesn’t offer ebooks right now because the system we had cost too much to connect with Overdrive. We just changed systems, and now may be moving toward adding ebooks to our collection in the near future. But as others have pointed out: publishers charge libraries A LOT more for ebooks so we can’t buy many; Overdrive is required and isn’t always friendly (we don’t have the IT staff to attempt what other public libraries are doing and set up our own system for borrowing); and the wait times can be long for titles. I have borrowed a few from a regional library in my state and agree that no renewals are a bummer. But with so few that can be purchased (and the long wait times), it’s not that surprising.

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